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Landmark museum building opens in Armenia

A landmark new building opened Tuesday at the Armenian museum for ancient manuscripts in the capital Yerevan, one of the largest collections of historically important documents in the world.

"This building is of international importance," said the Matenadaran museum's director Hrachya Tamrazian at the opening.

"It will become not only a centre for the development of studies of Armenian cultural heritage, but also an international research centre," he said.

The Matenadaran museum is "one of the oldest and richest book depositories in the world" according to the UN cultural organisation UNESCO.

Its collection, first established in the fifth century, includes more than 17,000 Armenian manuscripts dating back to medieval times alongside more than 3,000 manuscripts in other languages and some 100,000 other ancient documents.

The imposing new grey basalt structure on a hill in central Yerevan is equipped with a high-tech laboratory to preserve, restore and digitise manuscripts.

"Matenadaran is not just for storage, it is also a research centre," the museum's director of restoration Gayane Eliazian told AFP.

The opening attended by Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian coincided with celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of Armenia's independence, which culminate in a showpiece military parade on Wednesday.